The Common Good

The Last Thing the World Needs Is Congress Thwarting Historic U.S.-Iran Nuclear Deal

The nuclear deal that the U.S. just struck with Iran is nothing short of historic. This agreement is a victory for everyone who wants to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and a catastrophic war.

Globe Turner and SoRad / Shutterstock
Globe Turner and SoRad / Shutterstock

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The deal is one of the many triumphs that have resulted from the great American tradition of negotiating with adversaries to advance U.S. interests. President Kennedy's talks with Premier Khrushchev delivered the world from the brink of nuclear war. Ten years later, President Nixon's visit to Mao's China revolutionized the U.S. role in Asia, and the world. A decade later, President Reagan's diplomatic engagement of President Gorbachev achieved historic nuclear arms reductions.

UN weapons inspectors are now on track to peacefully disarm Syria of its chemical weapons because Washington was willing to engage the Syrian regime through diplomacy with Moscow, rather than through Tomahawk cruise missiles. And under the deal reached in Geneva this weekend, Iran will stop advancing its nuclear program for the first time in nearly a decade.

Iran's nuclear program will now be under an expanded inspections regime to help ensure that Iran's nuclear program is used for purely peaceful purposes. In exchange, Iran will receive modest sanctions relief.

Make no mistake: this is a good deal, and it should be protected so that our diplomats have the space to negotiate a final agreement to prevent war and a nuclear-armed Iran once and for all.

That is why former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former national security advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft have already endorsed the deal. These three most pre-eminent national security officials have cautioned Congress against pushing for new sanctions that could sabotage the tremendous progress that our diplomats have achieved.

Some in Congress, however, have hinted that they may reject their advice and still opt for more sanctions. Significantly, both Senator Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the respective chair and ranking members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would not rule out another round of sanctions when they responded to news of the deal on Sunday. As Corker said on Fox News Sunday: "I think there are going to be some people that want to impose additional sanctions, that's another effort that we may well take part in."

Menendez was more explicit in alluding to new sanctions efforts already in motion:

I expect that the forthcoming sanctions legislation to be considered by the Senate will provide for a six month window to reach a final agreement before imposing new sanctions on Iran, but will at the same time be immediately available should the talks falter or Iran fail to implement or breach the interim agreement.

Senator Menendez may be referring to Senator Corker's "Iran Nuclear Compliance Act", (INCA) which should more aptly be called "the Iran Nuclear Deal-making Defiance Act." This legislation would effectively straightjacket our diplomats' negotiating efforts by setting demands for what the agreement would have to include and deadlines for when it would have to be concluded. Diplomacy would be replaced by dangerous ultimatums, which could take the United States and Iran off the path to a final diplomatic solution, pushing the two countries closer toward war. 

To be clear, INCA cannot verifiably place restrictions on Iran's nuclear program. Only an agreement hashed out by our diplomats — not congressional dictates — can do that. Instead, INCA would restrict the ability of our diplomat-in-chief, President Obama, to negotiate a deal, allowing him only 240 days to conclude a final agreement with Iran.

Unless and until that deal is reached that meets Corker's conditions, the president would be blocked from lifting sanctions. The only circumstances in which the president could provide sanctions relief before a final deal would be if he certifies to Congress that Iran is in compliance with the interim deal and it is in the 'vital national security interests of the United States' to lift sanctions.

Rather than put our nation's top diplomats on trial while micromanaging their every move, Congress should join them and our country's finest national security leaders in safeguarding the deal that has been achieved. It would be foolish for Congress to jeopardize a good deal that freezes and rolls back the most urgent proliferation concerns of Iran's nuclear program with unreasonable demands.

Our diplomats must be empowered with the maneuvering room to strike a comprehensive agreement to guard against a nuclear-armed Iran and war. If presidents and diplomats of the past were subject to the same restraints that some in Congress have tried to impose on the Obama administration's negotiations with Iran, it surely would have compromised Reagan's negotiations with Gorbachev, Nixon's talks with Mao, and perhaps even Kennedy's diplomatic outreach to Khrushchev.

This deal is an unprecedented step forward to peacefully resolving the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. It's time for Congress to support our negotiators to ensure that this deal and the long-term agreement that follows it is a success.

Want to thank President Barack Obama for pursuing peaceful, negotiated solutions to the Iran crisis and encourage him to keep it up? Click here.

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson is distinguished adjunct professor of government and public policy at the College of William and Mary. Previously, during a 31-year career in the US army, served as chief of staff to US Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Kate Gould is legislative associate for middle east policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation and serves on the board of Churches for Middle East Peace.

This article was originally posted on The Guardian.

Photo: Globe Turner and SoRad / Shutterstock

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